While cases may not be on the rise, the state is pushing full force to increase its efforts to fight child trafficking on the Internet.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen took the floor for the state Joint Finance Committee Tuesday, asking the state to fund five more positions on the Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
"I can think of no better expenditure of those dollars than to protect those people who cannot protect themselves," Van Hollen said.
A statewide sting called Operation Black Veil wrapped up last week. In all, 17 men were arrested on suspicion of soliciting sex online.
Authorities said the suspects made arrangements online for sexual encounters with officers posing as minors or custodians of minors on Craigslist.
One of the six men arrested in Dane County was state worker Timothy Marking. A Department of Administration spokeswoman confirmed Marking was hired in 2008 but would not say whether he still held a position there.
According to a criminal complaint, Marking responded to a Craigslist ad under the "casual encounters" category on a Tuesday afternoon. When he attempted to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old girl for sex acts, an officer confronted him and arrested him, according to the complaint.
ICAC Commander Jennifer Price said the task force made 130 arrests last year, a record number for the group. While she cannot say the number of crimes or predators has significantly increased, Price said the amount of attention to the issue has spiked.
"This is an area that we have left untouched for many years, not because it's not happening, but because we haven't the resources to commit to it," Price said.
Price said these kinds of operations are incredibly labor-intensive and typically take months of work to execute. She said there are still hundreds of offenders that the state is chatting with online.
While all of the Dane County suspects were brought into custody using Craigslist, Price said predators are constantly changing their online venues.
"We are always fighting against trends, keeping up with trends, keeping up with the technology, keeping up with the ability to conduct the forensic analysis on the devices we receive on these cases, and to just keep up to date on it with our training, because we need to have agents, investigators across the state, who not only have the experience, but also maintain that level of training to take the next step in advanced-level ICAC operations," Price said.
Jennifer Ginsburg interviews young victims of sexual abuse with the Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center. Her questions now regularly include inquiries regarding online contact and photographs, all linked to growing and ever-changing technology.
"You start looking at the different angles of how was this child potentially exploited or trafficked," Ginsburg said. "Child exploitation and sex trafficking have been around for ages, but what's new is the access that people have through technology that they might not have had."
Ginsburg said one of the most difficult concepts for people to grasp is that predators can take many forms. Seeing six arrests in Dane County didn’t surprise her, but Ginsburg said she hopes the community realizes offenders can exist anywhere and be anyone.
For Ginsburg, the challenge is understanding the many ways these people may victimize a child next.
"It's kind of opening your mind to all of the unfortunate possibilities," Ginsburg said.
Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal calls for five people to work just on these cases within the Department of Justice. There is currently no one specifically assigned to child sex crimes.
Investigators said that kind of dedicated effort is needed because policing the Internet for child exploitation is hard to do.